Making Difficult Workplace Conversations Easier

By Zach Seybert
In November 28, 2017

Unless you work remotely, or are your own boss, it is more likely than not that you will engage in conversation at the office. Topics and the nature of conversation can vary greatly. Light-hearted “water cooler” discussions about your favorite team’s latest game or even just casual conversation about your weekend plans, these interactions occur every day. On the other, more serious, end of the spectrum, topics include submitting your two-weeks-notice to take another position, asking for a raise, or even having to possibly fire someone. Whatever the case may be, we are sure to encounter difficult conversations at some point in our careers.

Often times the anticipation and lead up to these discussions are anxiety-inducing, but once handled it feels like the weight has been lifted and you can go back to your day-to-day routine. Forbes contributor Victor Lipman has encountered his fair share of difficult conversations in the workplace as a manager. As one who dreaded these experiences, he came up with four suggestions on how to make difficult conversations easier (read the full article here). While generally aimed at the employer-side of things, these suggestions are certainly applicable to the employee side as well. They are also transferable to life outside of the office.

Prepare, prepare and then prepare some more.

Whatever the topic of discussion may be (compensation, behavior, job performance, etc.), being prepared is of utmost importance. For instance, you are not going to go to your boss and ask for a raise without having a number in mind and evidence to help plead your case that you are worthy of receiving one. On the other end, if one of your employees comes to you to discuss a potential raise, you too should have prepared enough facts to agree or disagree with their request.

Whatever happens, no matter what crazy stuff is thrown at you, don’t lose your cool.

A key tip to remember is “respond, don’t react.” While many of these topics and discussions can certainly be emotional, taking time to think about your response instead of blurting something out right away will prove to be beneficial in the long run. That said, it is normal to show displeasure with something said for both the employer and employee, but you should do so in a thoughtful way. You don’t want to burn bridges within the company, especially if you plan on continuing to work there.

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Don’t duck the really hard stuff.

In your preparation and anticipation for this difficult meeting, you likely came up with a list of points and topics of discussion. If the meeting is going better than you thought it would, it is easy to not bring up more controversial topics. As people, we generally try to avoid conflict, especially at work, but while you are engaging in the conversation, it is important to cover all topics.

Be sure going into the conversation of the outcome you want to get out.

If you’re going to your boss to ask for a raise, you likely want to come out of that meeting with said raise or a way to receive it in the near future. As an employer, if you’re meeting with an employee about his or her performance, you need to know what you’re looking to get out of it. Are you trying to motivate him or her to step it up a little bit, or are you issuing a warning that if performance falters you will need to cut ties? Having an idea of what you want to accomplish will help guide the conversation.

Wrap Up

Regardless of the topic, difficult conversations in the workplace are inevitable. With the help of these four suggestions, which all build on each other, the anxiety in the build up before having a discussion can be reduced or even eliminated. By preparing for the discussion, being confident and maintaining your composure, a resolution will be reached and you can continue going about your day.

Zach is a Digital Content and Marketing Specialist with NexGoal, who specializes in creating career transition and job search preparation content.